Bricking it: Council refuses to rebuild wall to “save” £50,000

Collapse of confidence: Croydon Council did nothing about maintaining a dangerous wall at Norwood Rec for nearly seven years

Party walls are among the most common causes of disputes between neighbours. Just hope that you never share a boundary with Croydon Council as your neighbours

Seven years after first being warned about the possible collapse of a boundary wall in one of Croydon’s public parks, and nine months after the inevitable disintegration of the dangerous structure, the council has sold off the bricks from its wall and is now trying to fob off angry local residents with a cheap fence as a replacement.

Householders in South Norwood had been appealing to Croydon Council since 2005 to fulfil its responsibilities for the wall, which since its collapse in January has left their homes exposed and vulnerable.

After much lobbying from residents, Croydon Council finally conceded that it had full responsibility for the maintenance of the wall only in March this year.

The wall used to divide the gardens of homes on Cornwall Gardens and South Norwood Recreation Ground. Locals had expressed their worries about the danger of the wall after several large cracks appeared in its structure seven years ago. But the parks department did little to remedy the situation, leading to the eventual collapse into the park.

Indeed, many residents believe that as well as being negligent, the council and its contractors had contributed to the collapse through the use of heavy, earth-moving plant machinery close to the already unstable structure. “The noise, vibration and movement of these vehicles so close to the wall may well have hastened the wall’s collapse,” one resident told Inside Croydon.

Residents are furious at the dangerous irresponsibility of the council over a prolonged period.

“The situation’s bad enough with us having to live with the debris at the end of our gardens,” one resident told Inside Croydon.

“But can you imagine the anger and the heartbreak caused by this prolonged neglect if someone, maybe a small child, had been injured, or worse, by the wall’s collapse?”

This and other pictures of the dangerous cracks in the wall’s structure were sent to the council in the middle of 2007

Following its collapse on January 7 after a battering by gale-force winds, rubble remained as an eyesore for park users and residents alike, while the temporary fencing erected by the council’s parks department offered little reassurance to house-holders, nor much of a deterrent to determined intruders.

According to one of the residents, Rod Dumbrill, the temporary fencing “was incompetently fitted, prejudicing my security, although the council denied this”.

Any possibility of rebuilding the wall in keeping with the area, perhaps re-using many of the original wall’s bricks, has been lost after the council flogged off the rubble to a private salvage contractor in June for an undisclosed sum. One source suggests that there were enough bricks in the collapsed wall to build a four-bedroom house.

The type of brick, yellow Imperials, used in the wall could be worth up to £3 each at retail, due to the rising demand for old bricks; Imperials became obsolete in the 1970s as modern bricks were made in metric dimensions.

The wall was built with enough bricks for a four-bedroom house, now all flogged off by Croydon Council

Now, the dispute has escalated, with Croydon Council refusing to provide a like-for-like replacement for the 10-foot-high brick wall, offering instead an 8ft “Weldmesh” wire fence. “We’d lose completely our homes’ privacy and security,” Dumbrill said.

The council – which is spending nearly £1million this year just to furnish its new palatial headquarters building in central Croydon – has provided a couple of figures which suggest a reason for it failing to consider the interest of its Council Tax-paying residents. The rebuilding cost of an identical wall would be £62,000; the cost of the Weldmesh fence is £15,000: a saving of a grand total of less than £50,000 – a significant amount, but trivial in an overall council budget that squanders £20 million a year on “consultants”, or that is involved in a £450 million “urban regeneration vehicle”.

As if the council’s negligence is not bad enough, its ignorance towards the residents’ requests is nothing short of insulting. In July last year, locals presented a petition with nearly 200 signatures at a full council meeting, calling for urgent action. “I have yet to receive an acknowledgement, let alone any response from them,” Dumbrill said this week.

Dumbrill offers a damning summary of the catalogue of delays, neglect and avoidance by public servants working for a council whose motto, apparently in all seriousness, is “Proud to Serve”:

“So, the council finally admit responsibility for the wall that was always theirs, having denied it for years. They fail to maintain it, thus causing its collapse due to their wilful neglect. They display compete apathy, incompetence and inaction. And expect to replace a 10ft brick wall with an 8ft wire fence, to be imposed by them without allowing discussion or even explanation.

“And they completely ignore a petition, correctly served with the assistance of Councillor Wayne Lawlor. They sell off the collapsed bricks (these were valuable Imperial bricks) to a salvage contractor for an undisclosed profit. They do nothing to allay my justified concerns for nine months. And provide me with no information on progress.”

CROYDON COUNCIL does not even have the option of claiming no knowledge of its own infrastructure in this saga, either. There exists correspondence from the council’s parks department, dated June 11, 2007, which states, ” …there has been structural movement to the wall which is in poor condition and leaning outwards in the corner.

“The wall is not currently considered a dangerous structure however I have arranged for it to be fenced off within the park…”

How the council can admit that the wall in a public park was in “poor condition” and leaning, having seen photographic evidence of cracks in the wall up to 4in wide, but not determine that it was a dangerous structure is the sort of mystery that only the sage individuals who run the borough from the seventh floor of Taberner House could try to explain.

Wayne Lawlor: councillor is astonished at the council’s response over the South Norwood Rec wall

This apparent irresponsibility towards the wall and its neighbours by the council seems to be a new policy:  according to previous owners of the residential properties, the wall has in the past been repaired on at least one occasion and in one area it was rebuilt, always by the council.

Work to erect the cheap Weldmesh fence has started this month, the residents only being advised two days in advance. The council is already subject to an official complaint about its failure to respond properly. The complaint was lodged on September 10, the council has promised to respond… by October 15. Proud to Serve, just ever so slowly and reluctantly?

South Norwood Labour councillor Wayne Lawlor finds the council’s attitude unhelpful to the point of obstructive. “Croydon Council has accepted responsibility for the wall,” Lawlor said, “however, the council continue to confuse the matter by referring to obscure agreements dating back to the last century in an effort to absolve themselves of responsibility.

“I wonder what the response would have been someone had been seriously injured or worse? I am amazed at the council’s indifference to residents and users of South Norwood Recreation Ground. The wall collapsed in January and works are only starting now. Had those people making this decision lived in the area affected, I think the outcome would be quite different.

“Croydon Council has blamed a lack of money for their decision. Yet again law-abiding, tax-paying residents are paying the price for Croydon Council’s waste and extravagance in other areas, such as namely the £450 million luxury HQ.”

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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